As submissions pour in for the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art (formerly named the Factor Prize), I’ve been thinking about the individual artists from across the southeast who are submitting their work for review. Before I came on board as the marketing manager of the Gibbes Museum, I worked from home as a freelance writer and in that role I frequently submitted my work to various writing prizes. It was hard at first, getting my hopes up and being let down, but eventually the submission process became easier and I won a small prize from a publication in my home-state of Vermont. Winning was thrilling, and even though I had been writing since childhood, the prize made me feel like a “real writer.” Winning gave me the confidence to go to graduate school to earn my MFA, and I can even credit that small prize with the publication of my first book. The experience gave me the recognition and confidence to continue to pursue my writing.
Now that I am working on the other side of a prize, I’ve been curious to know whether my experience was unique or universal. I wanted to know if winning the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art affected the five artists in a similar manner. Did the prize give these artists the confidence to dig deeper in their careers? Did wining the prize help them define themselves as “real artists”? Seeking answers to these questions, I reached out to past winners to ask them to share how winning the prize has affected their career. Below you will read the answers.
Jeff Whetstone is the 2008 winner and says,
“Winning the Factor Prize in 2008 opened several new possibilities in my career. I was able to expand my approach to portraying and describing the Southern landscape and its people by moving into new mediums. I produced two short films with support of the Factor Prize that were shown at the Moving Image Art Fair and at a solo exhibition in New York. Without the funding and the broader support of the Gibbes Museum this work would have never been a reality.”
The 2009 winner, Stephen Marc, shared,
“Two of the most significant and memorable events in my life happened in the South. The first was in 1976, while running track for Pomona College when the NAIA (National Athletic Intercollegiate Association) national championship meet was held at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, AR. I became an NAIA All American, placing 2nd in the 110 meter High Hurdles. The second event was receiving this prize.”
Radcliffe Bailey is the 2010 winner and a frequent traveler who is difficult to pin down! Bailey’s work has gained recognition in the last two years and he is best known for his mixed media works and site-specific installations that explore his personal background and the history of African Americans. Bailey’s work is included in the collections of many prestigious organizations including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the High Museum of Art, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Patrick Dougherty won the Prize in 2011. He replied,
“After 30 years of working day-in and day-out as a sculptor, I was delighted to receive the call with the news that I had been selected for the 2011 Factor Prize. I was working on a new sapling sculpture in Dayton, Ohio, when the call came and I nearly fell off the scaffolding in surprise. (…) This journey has allowed me access to a variety of organizations, an ever-changing public, and a portal to the world of ideas. Thank you for the Factor Prize and all the opportunities that it will bring.”
For John Westmark, winning the Prize was a real boost on many levels. Receiving critical acclaim has helped validate his work and has served as great personal motivation to continue pursuing his art with passion. Westmark explains, “Without opportunities and acknowledgements such as the Factor Prize, an artist runs the risk of toiling away in relative obscurity.”
Westmark’s success has come full circle and on April 4, 2014, we opened a solo exhibition of his latest work titled John Westmark: Narratives. This is the first time his work is being exhibited in a museum setting and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. In Southern Glossary, Brad Rhines writes “Some of the most evocative paintings from this series show women on the attack, often organized in battle formations and carrying rifles or flags. The scenes are reminiscent of images from the Civil War or the American Revolution, iconic depictions of revolt. The painting Exaltation riffs on the theme of women at war, but the moment captured is more stylized.” In an article entitled “Painting feminism: Before Gibbes Museum starts renovations, a dynamic exhibit of works by John Westmark” the Post & Courier Arts Writer Adam Parker writes, “The judges were especially impressed with Westmark’s emphasis on narrative, which is in line with Southern storytelling, according to museum director Angela Mack.”
Winning the Prize has brought attention to these five artists’ work, which is exactly the point. The $10,000 cash award helps support an artist’s career, but the recognition is likely more important. I was not surprised to discover in my research that winning a prize is equally significant for writers and artists alike!
—Amy Mercer, Marketing and Communications Manager, Gibbes Museum of Art
Submissions for the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art are being accepted through May 28, 2014. To submit a portfolio for consideration, please visit 1858Prize.org.